A TEENAGE asylum seeker who says he spent six months living in a damp and mould-infested house after Kirklees Council reneged on a tenancy agreement is battling for thousands in compensation.
Lawyers for 19-year-old Haval Mohammed say the council should be ordered to pay him damages for the “distress, anxiety and mental anguish” he suffered at being kept waiting for a suitable home.
The claim could cost Kirklees many thousands of pounds – and leave the taxpayer to pick up a costly legal bill.
Haval, who was brought up in Syria, came to England in 2007 as an unaccompanied minor and sought asylum.
He first lived in Darlington, but had to leave due to racist incidents and moved to Kirklees where, after some time sleeping on a friend’s floor, he presented himself as homeless.
In January 2008, the council accepted that it owed a legal duty to house the teenager and put him up temporarily in a house in Thomas Street, Heckmondwike, which his lawyers say was afflicted by various problems, including a leaky roof and black mould in the bathroom area.
However, soon afterwards – after accepting that Haval was “in priority need” – the council granted him a secure tenancy of a new home in St Matthew’s Road, West Town, Dewsbury.
He was handed the keys, but top judge, Lord Justice Rimer, told London’s Civil Appeal Court that Kirklees swiftly “had second thoughts” about the tenancy.
Haval was told to hand back the keys, which he did, and had to stay in Thomas Street for another six months, until August 2008, before he was finally allowed to take up residence in the St Matthew’s Road home.
In April last year at Dewsbury County Court, Judge Shaun Spencer QC, ruled that what the council had done amounted to a breach of contract and an interference with Haval’s right to “peacefully enjoy” his new home.
The judge awarded the teenager £650 damages.
However, Haval’s lawyers are now arguing at the Appeal Court that what he suffered at the council’s hands amounted to a “trespass” in law and £650 was nowhere near enough to compensate him for the anxiety and mental distress he endured.
Granting Haval permission to appeal, Lord Justice Rimer said it was his case that he had a right to take up occupation of his new home when the secure tenancy was granted, but instead had to live an extra six months “in less salubrious premises where he did not want to be”.
He said the teenager’s legal team had put forward “a cogent challenge” to Judge Spencer’s ruling and his case should proceed to a full Appeal Court hearing, before three top judges.
No date was set for the full hearing of Haval’s appeal, at which the Kirklees Council will be legally represented.
Even if Haval’s damages award is substantially increased by the Appeal Court – as his lawyers say it should be – his payout is likely to be dwarfed by the legal costs of the case.